by Erika M. Carreon
▶︎ In Talik, the body becomes introspection.
There is a certain evasiveness when dealing with sex in poetry, a split between sacred and profane, erotic and pornographic. Much has been said about the blurry line between these demarcations, and yet the unspoken hangs always over the debate: if Sex is to be written into Poetry, sex must mean something, and porn — artless, utilitarian, malaswa — is the farthest thing from meaning as one could get. All surface, all prosaic. And yet there must be something in lewdness--unapologetic as it throws our desires back at us, its immediacy, its distillation of moments into impressions, the ghost of them burnt into the retina — that could be, should be, the very stuff of poetry.
Mesandel Virtusio Arguelles does just that in Talik. The epigraph sets the tone for the rest of the book, contrasting a quote about intimacy and the body from Robin Blaser with wordplay about groping a woman’s body. They exist on equal footing, each pulling from the other like bodies untangling after sex. Indeed, the starkness of voice in the first poem, “Talik,” reveals the undercurrent of seriousness in such play, beginning in bondage (in every sense of the word), “May tali sa talik” and ending on a more somber note, “May tali at talik/sa talikdan”. Other poems obsess over repetition, their voices grasping not just at skin and flesh but at meaning, trying new outcomes with each reiteration. What does one body mean to another? Is there becoming in coming? The answers are slippery, even as they are echoes of the persona’s previous insight.
What Arguelles does here is surgery, dissecting what happens when a body acts upon another. Many of the poems, for instance, examine the Gaze — no longer simply male or female, sexless as it is absorbed in sex — and its relationship to openings, orifices. How does one enter the body and thus acquire it? And yet portals are both a way in and out: the voyeur is no longer invisible from the same scrutiny, the viewer becomes hyper-aware of where bodies are cut off or cast out from the frame. Through sex there is also transformation: a fist is used in defiance and pleasure; sounds through the wall become crumbs for the listener, an illusion of involvement; sexual performance becomes transaction, becomes endless attempts at quantification.
And how is this different from love, after all? This constant negotiation between the vulnerability and impregnability of the self when faced with an other, the absence of shame, the desire for possession and to be, in turn, possessed? Talik reinforces that the body has boundaries, and in fact casts these boundaries in sharp relief. There is a certain solitude in this, both sobering and dignifying, reminding us that the body is a person, that it has agency, selfhood, even as their selfhood undermines our own desires. “Millenium Mambo” for instance, is one long goodbye, written in prose, the persona coming to grips with the loss of a lover and the physical and emotional impotence from the severing of this sexual bond. The last poem in this narrative is followed by “Ipis”, jarring us like an aborted orgasm from the emotional investment of the persona in the previous poem.
The brutal honesty of the book culminates in the final twenty-poem sequence, “Talik”: though other poems in the collection similarly use couplets, the poems that comprise “Talik” are the most uniform in form. Its terseness a contrast to the longer narratives of the prose blocks in Part 3, this sequence is not so much the climax at the end of a crescendo as a petering-out into a staccato rhythm, a constant thrusting towards numbness. One gets a sense of being worn down yet, being creatures of habit, keeping to the comforts of carnality.
“Maselan ang pakikipagtalik. / Nasa loob ka ng kumpisalan....Sa silid na ito / wala nang ibang lalabasan.”
So says the final poem in "Talik." These poems expose the little deaths we inflict upon ourselves, upon others, when we expose ourselves. ***
Erika M. Carreon currently teaches with the Literature Department of De La Salle University Manila. She co-founded and co-edited Plural Online Journal, and is currently producing hybrid art and writing projects with Neobie Gonzalez as Occult's Razor. She originally posted this on Facebook.